Sunday, February 05, 2006

And now for something completely different

Notwithstanding the overwhelming importance of the War of the Danish Cartoons, other aspects of life and activity must go on. One of my forthcoming activities is a talk I shall be giving to the Society for Individual Freedom on Tuesday, February 7 at 6.30 pm in the upstairs room of the Westminster Arms in Storey’s Gate, London SW1 (for those misguided souls who might want to attend).

My subject will be “Out of the EU into the Anglosphere?”. As it was pointed out by a person close to me, spheres are the theme of my talks this year. In Washington I talked to the Hudson Institute on “America, Europe and the blogosphere” (yes, yes, I know I have not written the meeting up) and now this.

At various times the theme of the Anglosphere cropped up on this blog and it is one that needs to be covered in greater detail, though, I am glad to say there is a group-blog, Albion’s Seedling, that is dedicated to the theme.

Very briefly, this relatively new political idea is based on the notion that certain countries share similar political, constitutional, legal and economic ideas and these countries make up a loose network, called the Anglosphere.

The ideas come from England and it was the historian Alan Macfarlane, who first showed in The Origins of English Individualism that mediaeval England could not be described as a classic peasant society, as property appeared to be owned individually rather than by family to a far greater extent than it had been understood before that.

Other aspects of Anglospheric thinking are (and much of this is theory and aspiration rather than practice) small government, individual freedom, a legal basis of common law and a very strong sense of property and legality.

Anglospherism is neither the rather racist Anglo-Saxonism of the early twentieth century nor the moribund Commonwealth revived. It is based on ideas about the past and the future and a network or coalitions of the willing made possible by modern technology.

There are other aspects of peculiarly English ideas, which are responsible for the stupendous leap forward humanity took in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some of these I am still mulling over.

For instance, it may be the basic distrust of the state that makes it so peculiarly inefficient, as shown by its behaviour in the twentieth century. It is fair to say that no country’s economy can survive control by the state but nothing run by the state in the Anglospheric countries seems to function: not welfare, not education, not even transport. Whether this is good or bad is irrelevant. It appears to be the pattern.

Another aspect of the Anglospheric peculiarity or exceptionalism occurred to me a while ago (before the actual theory came my way) when Tate Britain had an exhibition of pre-Reformation art. It was a very limited and badly curated exhibition, whose main aim seem to prove that the Reformation, having destroyed much of Catholic art (true) then proceeded to destroy English culture by separating it from the Continent (manifestly rubbish).

What did occur to me as I was reading the rather pathetic excuse for art history was that there was clearly a continuity in English culture through the Reformation. (Readers are welcome to shoot down these tentative speculations.)

After all, do we ever hear of English artists before the sixteenth century? There were many on the Continent by this time, particularly in Italy. But we do hear of writers and poets, books published, even the first cookery book under Richard II. Could it be that English culture tended to the literary even before the Reformation.

Interestingly, the exhibition managed to disprove some of its own ideas. It seems that the great achievement of English art and sculpture before and after the Reformation was the family vault in the various churches. There is, one suspects, a continuing emphasis on individual and family here, that is not to be disregarded.

Enough of the past. What of the future? Many of the ideas that will probably be of importance in the twenty-first century are of the Anglosphere. Will Britain, the country where these ideas originated all those centuries ago, be part of it? The reason there is a question mark at the end of the title is simple: I have the most serious doubts about it. We have moved too far away from the ideas of freedom, individuality, small government and common law. It will be the most appalling tragedy if we miss this wonderful opportunity.

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